More homes destroyed as Australia battles major bushfire

ADELAIDE, Australia - More than 30 homes are feared destroyed as firefighters battle the worst bushfire in South Australia for three decades, with officials warning Sunday of a threat to lives even as weather conditions improve.

The state's Country Fire Service said the intense fire, which broke out Friday in the Mount Lofty Ranges east of Adelaide, was continuing to burn in all directions at Sampson Flat, threatening lives.

But a cool change Sunday is expected to help them work to contain the fire ahead of a forecast rise in temperatures again on Wednesday.

"I can confirm that 12 homes have been destroyed and it's feared that a further 20 homes have also been lost," South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill told reporters.

"However, the conditions for firefighting have improved. The weather is cooler and the weather conditions will permit aerial firefighting.

"This is important because it is forecasted that we will have worsening weather conditions on Wednesday so it's critical that we make headway on reducing the active edges of this fire front."

Weatherill said following a visit to the site of the bushfire on Sunday afternoon that he had seen "many burnt-out houses" and also "fires licking at the edges of a number of houses".

"This fire is a long way from over...there is a lot of hard work to be done. The conditions out there are difficult and in some respects dangerous," he added.

Large area razed

More than 11,000 hectares (27,200 acres) have been burnt in the Adelaide Hills, an area in the Mount Lofty Ranges with a population of about 40,000 and that is dotted with scenic villages and known for its farming produce and wineries.

"A large number" of dogs and all cats died when the blaze tore through a pet boarding property in the area, the owners of Tea Tree Gully Boarding Kennels & Cattery said in a post of Facebook.

But the owners added that while some 30 dogs were lost, more than 40 others were rescued from the blaze.

Temperatures are forecast to soar to 39 degrees Celsius on Wednesday, but the winds are not expected to be as strong as they have been over the past two days, Country Fire Service chief executive Greg Nettleton said.

Hundreds of firefighters from the neighbouring states of Victoria and New South Wales joined their South Australian counterparts Sunday, taking the total crew battling the blaze to more than 800.

Some 22 people, mostly firefighters, have suffered minor injuries from the fire, Weatherill added.

State officials said Saturday it was the worst fire conditions they had seen since the 1983 bushfires of Ash Wednesday.

The 1983 disaster killed more than 70 people in South Australia and Victoria and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.

In Victoria, cooler temperatures Sunday saw bushfire warnings downgraded across the state. But thousands of sheep and other stock were believed to have been lost in blazes there, officials said.

Bushfires are common in Australia's summer months between December and February.

"Black Saturday", the worst firestorm in recent years, devastated southern Victoria in 2009 as it razed thousands of homes and killed 173 people.